Comedians bring awareness to autism


Ashanti Thomas

Kirk Smith speaks directly to audience members in the front row during his part of the Autism Conference Comedy night on Thursday.

Katja Benz, Student Government Reporter

Comedians Kirk Smith and Keith Reza spoke about their experiences with autism during their stand up comedy routines at Eastern’s Autism Conference Comedy Night Thursday night.

Smith discussed his experiences having an autistic son and Reza talked about his experience having autism.

The theme of this year’s conference is Autism Acceptance according to Rudyard Watson, a clinical professor in Eastern’s communication disorders and sciences department. 

Watson says that exposure to those that are neurodiverse is a good thing.

“We want them to see that there’s a neurodiverse side to being a comedian, and really to being anything to be in any job,” Watson said.

Watson added that the department wanted to add some different perspectives to the autism conference happening tomorrow.

“So I felt like their perspective would be a good perspective to have to potentially give some levity to the issue,” Watson said. “(We also want to) provide, you know, some entertainment at the same time.”

Reza, during his routine, shared some of his experiences being a comedian with autism.

“I just try to make everything funny,” Reza said. “Sometimes, I have to let people know that I do have autism, so that they can understand my brain. And if I don’t do that, I feel I’m not unique to do comedy.”

As a child, Reza would watch comedy specials with his father. While watching those specials, he realized that he just wanted to tell jokes to others, without realizing that he could make money doing so.

One comedian Reza watched was Norm Macdonald, who he looked up to and ended up touring with. 

“Oh, it was great,” Reza said. “It was the best job in the world. It was just lots of laughs, just lots of love. He was a very loving guy.”

Smith, on the other hand, has a son with autism and shared some experiences with him.

He said that there were not as many media portrayals as there are now of people with autism. However, Smith thinks these portrayals are positive.

“The media portrayal is positive,” Smith said. “And there’s a lot more, but it does often focus on high functioning like ‘The Good Doctor,’ which is great and that’s an important voice. That’s a great voice, but you also can’t forget about the severely autistic that are nonverbal. They don’t talk. They’re potty trained at 10. That’s a whole different experience. It’s also valid and important.”

Smith hopes that people listen to autistic voices.

“I just want to make sure that people that have his level of disability, or view they’re not hidden away, but are an accepted part of society,” Smith said. “It’s important for them to have a voice.”

Reza thinks that having these perspectives are important because it shows how people with autism should not be labeled negatively.

“Everyone knows someone who has a form of autism,” Reza said. “It could be a cousin or an uncle or a friend’s cousin or uncle. So the point of my comedy is just to show people that dreams do come true. And that autistic people on the spectrum are talented, and they’re just like everyone else, and they shouldn’t be labeled as different.”


Katja Benz can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].